A true national gem of the British Isles - unassuming greatness in Cheltenham with exceptional value
Le Champignon Sauvage is a long-standing restaurant in the UK and held 2 Michelin stars (very deservedly so) for 18 years but was controversially downgraded to one star in the 2019 guide. This has baffled me based on my experiences thus far and so I returned in March 2020 to see if there was any explanation for this. Having done so, my headline is that I cannot see anything justifying this decision and is operating at the same, very high level I have experienced in the past. I have detailed all findings at the ‘read full review’ button below, but the quality of the menus and cooking here was another joy, demonstrating how well classic cuisine can be executed for seriously high-grade pleasure and I would commend a visit here anytime, any season.
A quick word on the place itself. Husband and wife David and Helen Everitt-Matthias have owned Le Champignon Sauvage (‘The Wild Mushroom’) since 1987. Within those near-33 years of ownership, Chef-owner David Everitt-Matthias has been cooking on every single day that the restaurant has been open; if he is ill then the restaurant has simply closed and I find this remarkable to begin with and up there with some of the dedication levels of Japan. I routinely chat with as many head chefs as I can post meals to get as much perspective as possible and interestingly for me, David E-M is the one chef I get nothing but consistent praise and reverence from other Michelin starred chefs.
Menu wise there is a good selection here. On the a la carte, it is two courses for £60 or three courses for £70 or, there is a more moderate set menu lunch which is £40 for three courses or £33 for 2 courses, which, when all said and done, the latter will practically be 4 courses anyway when all greetings and interludes are factored in. The other notable thing for this restaurant is that this is one of the few high end food locations that I know that offer this set menu in the evening as well (Wed-Fri) and this represents superb value.
On to the meal then, canapes arrived and were a blue cheese and walnut cookie, which was an instant victory and a squid ink gougeres with taramasalata. The cookie was a powerhouse of cheese flavour in a beautifully crumbly cookie which was so simple and so effective that it set an immediate good tone. A squid ink gougere was a playful twist on the choux pastry classic and with taramasalata that had a salt content level that was just right.
The amuse bouche was a smoked bone marrow custard, with shimeji mushroom jelly and wasabi mayonnaise which was frankly gorgeous. The savoury custard was set perfectly with bone marrow flavour that was not too heavy and was pitch-perfect in fatty feel, offset with sweeter jelly from the mushroom and gentle heat from the wasabi. I assure you this was eaten rather quickly. Homemade breads then came in the form of granary, white poppy seed, white baguette and bacon brioche, with the latter obviously being reached for first. Butter was from Netherend farm, Gloucestershire.
Miso-cured black cod was the first starter tried and this was brilliant, straight off the bat. The cod itself succulent and cooked perfectly, the miso being a deliciously chosen flavour to accompany the fish and the addition of malt was grand, all held well with unobtrusive baby parsnips and silky smooth parsnip puree. Very enjoyable indeed. Breast of Norfolk quail was another starter with stuffed leg, onion cream and alliums that all came together well, enhanced with hints of garlic and a glossy reduction from the quail. Not much to not like for this quail dish.
Next came an interlude of a small piece of braised lamb served with artichoke puree. This small piece of lamb had a gigantic impact as was one of the most tender and A-grade pieces of lamb I have had and the artichoke puree was silky and perfectly made. This is basically the essence of Le Champignon – simple things served and to peak levels as this was.
The mains chosen were venison and sea bream. The venison was served with beetroot, fig and with a lovely, smokey lapsang souchong reduction. All vegetables and flavours chosen here were a spot-on match for the meat, albeit with the one minor dent of this particular piece of venison being a fraction tougher than the heights of venison experiences recently. The other main was a perfect piece of sea bream with gloss-like mushroom puree, wonderful morels and brown butter sauce. This was delicious in every way and a knock out course.
A supplement of cheeses were enjoyed with a mix of Roquefort, Comte and triple cream variations from France and Britain. I liked the way the cheese selection was varied across the strengths of styles of cheese but was not a mobile, minivan of choices at the same time which can be too much I find. This was a sheer case of quality over quantity with some very nice cuts of cheese chosen. The pre-dessert was an unusual dandelion root ice cream, coffee granita and a milk foam. Whilst this didn’t set myself on fire in terms of flavour it was a fun savoury-sweet cross over in its originality.
The first of the desserts is a dish that I have had before – mango slices on Thai spiced cream, served with Thai green curry ice cream and with white chocolate ‘rocks’ underneath. The real gem here is the Thai spiced cream which is beautifully soft, creamy and fragrant, offset with thinly layered mango on top. This is the one dish that I have had before and could see on the menu (all other dishes being different) and if anything this was actually an improvement with the ice cream being even more smooth on this occasion. The second dessert tried was Bramley apple parfait with pressed caramelised apple and green apple sorbet. If it was possible, this dessert was even better than my Thai spiced cream dessert with simple and intense apple flavour running through the sorbet and the wonderful and pretty parfait, appearing like a rose.
An array of petit fours were enjoyed including an orange financier with prune, a chocolate and hazelnut brownie, salted lemon and white chocolate fudge, caramelised white chocolate fudge, chocolate fudge, a smooth and fun snickers truffle, a rum baba pistachio cake with toffee cream and passion fruit jellies. Quite a spread of treats to go with coffee sourced from Cotswold Blending.
When one puts all this together and considers the £85 price tag for all of this food at this level of quality, it is almost a mockery from other experiences that have offered the lukewarm food experience at gargantuan prices. So from a value for money viewpoint this is an extremely good option to begin. Reflecting on the overall food standpoint as the key issue, this visit has confirmed the restaurant’s demotion as a truly bizarre decision and it actually makes no sense to me at all what has changed in the minds of Michelin to this extent.
Experience seldom moves backwards and now that I have tried here again recently, I can confirm with confidence that the food here is simple excellence now, just as it always has been. If I had to take friends or clients somewhere in SW England that was the most reliable and best food option I can think of, it is here.
Food Grade: 92%
This is my second meal at Le Champignon Sauvage and the supper here on Friday night last now makes me firmly believe this is one of the most special places in the whole of the UK. For all reasons. I will keep this paragraph short so that those who just want the headlines can read and look at the photos and those with more interest in the finite rationale can read the details beneath. Suffice to say that this is the best value for money combined with high-end cooking I think is available in the entire country.
One only has to look at the menus to get an idea why, but even if it didn’t have 2 Michelin stars (an extremely prestigious club to be in), my mouth has rarely been this touched with so many taste pleasures that hit every sensor. It was a sheer delight to meet David Everitt Matthias after the meal and have a quick chat and I was frankly close to tears at how this meal was at certain moments. As usual, my overall grade is the average of all visits had to date. Thank you David and Helen again for an outstanding memory and for everyone’s hospitality during our meal.
Ode to joy – that’s the first thing that comes to my mind when I remind myself of this meal. So beginning with the canapés that began this parade, these were delightful – the parmesan mousse and chorizo powder being soft, light and with just the right kick (i.e. not too much), the fried ham hock was never going to fail and with the blob of horseradish cream on top was even nicer. The brioche biscuit to go with the goat’s cheese and lovage dip was again toned beautifully (normally I can’t do anything that is related to celery but this was a very subtle and smooth version and was lovely to use as a dip).
So after the opening canapés the engine was already on and revving very much at the lights. What I wasn’t expecting was an even nicer form of amuse bouche which was the cabbage blancmange with bacon foam (made with milk and double cream) and black pudding powder. For a pig lover, this was a stratospherically nice and light amuse bouche and I was close to sensory overload – the sort that makes you unable to control how quickly you eat when it is that enjoyable.
The bread selection was a talking point itself and the brioche was light, superbly fragranced (with an infusion of shallot and bacon) and a wonderful bread to have. Similarly, the tomato and olive focaccia was also lovely with its perfect moistness and strength at the same time. These were truly good and the only regret being that I couldn’t try more as I would have risked being too full.
On to the starters and I am happy to go on record in saying that this was the nicest lobster I have ever had. It was the most succulent, well balanced and sumptuous lobster one could have and was not over complicated – just the glaze of butter actually made me really appreciate the meat for what it was (for once) which was warmed and cooked to perfection and its supporting apple flakes and light vegetables gave it the texture it needed without being obtrusive. I didn’t feel the need to include the supporting powder with my mouthfuls of lobster, but the remainder was as close to perfect for lobster as I have ever had.
My steak tartare was beautifully done and the supporting corned beef was frankly one of the nicest things I have ever tasted and this was one of the moments where I was virtually overcome with emotion. Perhaps it was the fact that it was a childhood favourite that Dad used to try and make, or maybe it was because I hadn’t had it in such a long time or possibly nostalgia from only really having via numerous ration packs in slightly rougher surroundings, or quite possibly all and the fact that it was done to heights that have never been experienced – I honestly don’t see how it could have been bettered in flavour by anyone in the world in anyway and it brought the highest levels of gastronomic happiness that I very rarely have.
I should of course mention the fabulous wine options – the half a bottle of Burgandy was soft and fresh for both courses and superb value at £15. This complemented the starters and the intermediary scallops very well, the latter being beautifully done – again, with fresh and balanced peas and purées but carefully given to not interfere too much with the main event which, was cooked perfectly. Utterly gorgeous and delicate. The second half a bottle of wine was a one of the more reasonable options as well and for £14 for the half bottle of lovely Côte du Rhône it was again sensational value for money.
On to what the red went with and these were the main courses that were outstanding. The lamb with lamb sweetbreads, pistachio and supporting sauces certainly in the top two best lamb dishes I have also ever had. I can’t think how this dish could have been bettered and everything about it came together beautifully with the supporting jus giving an exquisite punch to the already perfectly succulent and juicy lamb. The duck was also incredible and again, the perfection of the crisp skin whilst not being too fatty, the tenderness of the duck and the sweet sauce reduction to accompany the meat were all out of this world.
The mascarpone pannacotta pre-dessert was fluffy and light and as we were reaching max capacity it was lovely that the restaurant gave one to share so we weren’t overloaded. It was also extremely kind of them to cater for sizing down the desserts in order to accommodate more flavours, which continued the roller coaster ride when I thought it was going to slow down. The duck egg custard was beautifully rich and creamy and the supporting rhubarb sorbet cut through and gave the perfect balance without being too ‘stingy’ as sorbets so often can be. This was actually toned down which I loved and on the other plate the Thai green sorbet with mango tart was another ‘stop everything’ moment – so fresh, crisp, original and powerful as a new flavour for dessert but without attacking the mouth at the same time, this was another talking point in its own right.
The meal was finished with lovely and delicate chocolates with luxurious fillings and a very pleasant chance chat with the Exec chef David who was enjoying his post-service coffee. A sheer pleasure to meet the man behind the creations and I can’t think of a nicer way to have finished off a very hospitably British affair it was, with wonderful, modern French dishes. There are many food bloggers out there, but it is simply experiences like this that drive my desire to do this and to sing about where compartments of the heart are opened so others can also experience – and here, components of my heart have been opened with a crowbar.
As I sit by the hydrotherapy pool at Lucknam Park on a Monday leave day, I have enjoyed every second of writing this as I can legitimately unleash all happy and positive compliments of what I had, as the dishes were simply that good and is a pleasure to be able to do so. This was a life-time memory of a meal and few places in the world have made my dining experience this much of a pleasure.
Food Grade: 97%
Right upfront, this was an absolute belter! Quite possibly the best set lunch menu I have ever had anywhere in the world and certainly, the best value set lunch that I have ever had in my life. At 2 Michelin stars, the food on the set menu was not only reasonably priced but also with explosive flavours and real care and attention to detail in the overall product. I knew from a very early stage of this meal that I will be coming back to try the specialities as soon as I can arrange.
The detailed review on the dishes are at the expansion button, however, the summary is that it’s been quite a while since I was this sure and excited about returning to a venue and Le Champignon Sauvage is in a special club in my book now on this one lunch sitting alone.
The restaurant itself is a homely affair and I was immediately made to feel welcome. The bar area is more a holding area of two sofas rather than full bar but comfortable nonetheless; as I did not need this on this occasion I went straight to the very nicely decorated table. The home-made unsalted butter in the shape of a perfectly sculpted pie simply sat there on the table, seducing me with its wares… The blue cheese cream biscuit had just the right potency for cheese which was pleasing but the rye bread, pickled pear cubes with horseradish cream was an instantaneous hit. I would describe this latter canapé itself as explosive and from that moment on I knew I was in the hands of an complete expert.
The bacon and broccoli mousse with bacon powder was fluffy and light but with enough richness as well – this was a superb amuse bouche. The haddock with parmesan foam was beautifully fresh and light, and again, not too heavy on the haddock essence which can very often be the case. Neither was this too salty or overpowering but just right and the flakes of flesh simply fell off the main body of the meat when the fork pressed in – beautifully succulent.
The outstanding moment of the meal however was the main. The duck had been marinaded in salt and garlic for 24 hours and this caused the meat to have almost the same shredded consistency to that of a Peking duck (in the Chinese style). Duck can sometimes be a slab of rubbery protein if not done well, but this had chunks of wonderfully succulent duck pieces, with the remainder flaking off with ease, all covered in a blissfully crisp and (not too) fatty skin. The chutney jus, spiced carrot and liver parfait were simply a marriage all together and I amazed at how good this dish on the set menu was.
The coffee tart was perfectly ‘eggy’ with a subtle coffee flavouring with very nice coffee jelly and white chocolate sorbet with coffee sugar crip. Who doesn’t like jelly and ice cream(?!) and this was a wonderful take on that unloseable formula. The dessert was light and smooth at the same time and the breadth of the petits fours was impressive meaning that one could almost go for the two course option and opt for the petits fours as a mock-dessert quite comfortably if full, such is the wonderful value of this venue.
I left Le Champignon with one of the biggest smiles I have had in a long time om completion of a meal and with a conviction to return as soon as possible. I will be coming back with vengeance for the a’la carte on the next visit and I am very glad to have finally seen for myself what a wonderful place this is. David Everitt-Matthias, the head chef and his wife Helen have run this venue together for 27 years and the passion and pride in their products was obvious. The food from David was sublime and the hospitality of Helen on the front of house were both a gem to finally experience and I look forward to returning at the soonest opportunity. Vive La Wild Mushroom!
Food Grade: 91%
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